Russ Nelson’s friends, colleagues from the commercial real estate industry and clients (including executives of Star Tribune Media Co.)  filled a big dining room of the Minneapolis Club recently to mark the retirement of this high-profile real estate advisor.

Nelson co-founded the Minneapolis advisory firm now known as NTH Inc.

As guests, including U.S. Bancorp Executive Chairman Richard Davis, paid tribute to Nelson, what got mentioned at least as often as real estate transactions was Nelson’s work as a volunteer with nonprofit groups.

The list was so long that St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman decided to skip reading them all and simply declare it Russ Nelson Day. Nelson’s volunteer work included the Como Friends group that supports the Como Park Zoo & Conservatory and the St. Paul Public Schools Foundation. 

Nelson, now 70 years old, then told the audience that he has promised his family that he won’t agree to taking on another volunteer assignment for at least six months as he eases into retirement. He also shared just the kind of opportunity he would then consider.

Nelson’s apparently well-known for his off-the-top-of-his head speaking, and he admitted he made up his criteria for any new volunteer assignment on the spot one day. But the more he thought about it, the more he understood its wisdom. And it’s well worth sharing.

For a project to interest him, he said, it first has to have a mission he’s personally passionate about.

Second, the project must be intellectually stimulating. He’s either going to learn a lot by volunteering his time or solving the problem is going to take a creative solution he gets to think a lot about.

Third, the project has to be something that makes life in the Twin Cities a little better, not something that brightens just a small corner of it.

And finally, it must be a project that lets him work with younger people.

If a project that meets all four of these requirements comes to mind, drop a reminder to yourself to reach out to Nelson sometime around Memorial Day next year. A few clicks of the mouse on Google is all it’ll take to track him down.

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